Urban Walking

Reusing and recycling the landscape in the ghostly industrial hinterlands

Lets start with some context. In the 60's I was born in a house in the town of Kilmarnock to the sound of whistling, in a street made (in)famous by the BBC BAFTA award winning shockumentery ‘The Scheme’

I never got engineering or understood the factory manufacturing process and frankly I was too busy daydreaming into the 90s but plenty of my friends left school and entered straight into what seemed sustainable employment. I left Kilmarnock over 25 years ago and apart from work and shopping in local supermarkets, I’d be lucky if I’ve returned 25 times in that period to inhale in its heritage or lack of, depending on your viewpoint.

Oddly enough, my latest urban walking commenced after an austerely enforced office relocation where my new car park is half a mile away from my office and needs must. And if you must need, you may as well enjoy that need. The musings for this piece actually started after visiting a supermarket which, was not always such, in the West Langland area of the town where I was born but more about that later.

Urban walking for me allows the walker to keep fit whilst admiring the latest and new views while noticing changes since your last visit. And my last visit of any memory was clearly some time ago.

In the colder months we rarely have the time, weather or inclination to put on the walking gear and head out into the country every day. In these busy times it’s not ideal to be scraping mud off your Karrimor boots and other assorted Sports Direct gear manufactured on the other side of the world, every night.

These are real viable options to keeping active. Although both walking options are appealing and can offer real insights into the local living and breathing landscape which change on a daily basis. Both for me offer different stimulus.

Walking or is it whistling reminds me of my father. Something has to apart from the mirror. Strangely you know stage 1 of when you are turning into your parent. Its the day you say ‘that’s not music’ to your eldest. Anyway my father who never had a driving licence walked nearly everywhere, whistling and admiring the vistas at the same time. In this day of 3 car, boxset besotted families it is very difficult to get a good whistle going and I suspect there will probably be a whistling victim support group somewhere anyway!

If I don’t include the sage advice from my GP related to mine (not his) West of Scotland lifestyle (mostly square sausage based) then I was inspired to get more active by 3 different drivers. 1) Having been office based for over 20 years, my wife bought me a GPS activity tracking watch to motivate a more active me. 2) A long weekend in London where we ‘looked up’ as we walked for over 27 miles, admiring the views, architecture and historical buildings and; most importantly. 3) Being drawn to reflect (as you do) when you reach an iconic age or after an illness, and realising I wasn’t 20 any longer and a fitter me could hopefully see my children thrive a little longer.

The last time I walked for any length was over 20 years ago when I proudly worked as a binman in the Ayrshire area where we could walk 7 or 8 miles per day. A more sedentary work role for over 20 years since and sitting watching repeats of Friends of an evening can take its toll. Not only on your health but your sanity (MY SANDWICH). At this point I should mention my respect for donor kebabs. But I’ll keep that first world problem for another time.

In my time as a binman, I must have collected waste from the back or front door of every home in the old Kilmarnock & Loudon part of East Ayrshire. Due to my milkboy training, I quickly knew where bins or bags were located, which flats had outbuildings and trip hazards to avoid, which houses had ferocious dogs, or even more ferocious pensioners and most importantly which residents to doff my cap at (well in December at least). Back then there were no long inductions or week long health and safety seminars as I really picked the job up (literally) as I went along. It’s surely ironic that a career in recycling of waste materials can drive an interest in the industrial change process.

It was those walks around Kilmarnock that provides the landscaped background for change. What is it? It’s just really where you walk through the urban landscape, your urban landscape and notice the often heartbreaking and frequently heartwarming heritage change.

What are the rules for heritage urban walking then? Fairly simple; an imagination or a memory of the landscape, comfortable (Yes – stage 2 of turning into a parent) walking footwear and the ability to be objective about change.

In any landscape whether it’s Ayrshire, Lanarkshire or Dundee, 20 or 30 years is a long time where there have been demolitions, refurbs and new builds galore in that time as well as industrial rebalancing, austerity measures and technology innovations. I thought it would be an interesting way of seeing what the streets offered now and keep healthy at the same time.

It is not all extensions and granny flats but what I witnessed from the Howard to Hill Street areas of Kilmarnock was nauseously overwhelming and inspiring in equal measures. There had been abyss like industrial changes and homes had been torn down which only 20 years prior had brought happiness and misery in probably similar measures. But who can stop progress and evolution? If we could, someone would have an App available on all suitable platforms for a reasonable charge, I suspect.

I noted old unsustainable maisonettes being redeveloped into detached homes, granny flats which were now offices, offices which were now businesses, gardens which were now homes for vulnerable pensioners, garages which were now businesses, buildings now supporting adults with learning difficulties and industries which were now providing starter homes and an education hub of such proportions which can only grow our children and allow them to aspire and thrive.

I also witnessed new businesses where businesses had failed before. All of which are surely positive. I passed the old farmers market which was situated opposite my late grandmothers home (which is still being used as a home by others) and noted the market which once provided nourishment for families was now homes providing shelter.

On the negative side I witnessed the burial ground of Johnie Walker where generations upon generations upon generations of families worked and shared aspirations. (The scale of which will never be seen again). I’m still young or is it old enough to remember the old Saxone site in the bottom of the town where hundreds of young people worked making shoes for walking before rebalancing their options. That ironically ended up as a sports centre which must itself be due for regenerative work in the coming years. Although slim pickings of industry survive, the change cycle keeps going. Maybe we can use that past heritage to build an innovative future for our children.

Having the chance to reflect on the cycle has been therapeutic, a kind of voyage around my past. Without the whistling (well the Apple EarPods are a godsend for the victim support group) of course.

Whilst everyone won’t agree with the drivers for an industrial decline and the change we endure, it is surely worth respecting the very people, buildings and heritage that provide the footprint for the future.

So the next time you walk the urban way, look up and look around, witness the history and change and reuse of the landscape in your area. It is changing as you live and breathe whilst being reused and recycled. And I suspect (on doctors orders) you’ll live and breathe a bit longer if you walk 10,000 or 15,000 steps per day whilst you do it.

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